I never fail to be saddened when I read stories of Black women dying due to lack of adequate healthcare. High profile cases such as the model Kim Porter’s death from pneumonia and Shalon Irving dying after childbirth complications have stood out in my mind: Both these stories illustrate that it doesn’t matter if you’re a model or a public health official – your occupation won’t save you from poor medical treatment if you’re a black woman.
It’s troubling that black women are not taken seriously while in pain. One thing that stands out for me is how there’s a belief that black people feel less pain than people from other races. That belief seems to have made its way into the healthcare profession. This erroneous belief, coupled with the historical exploitation of black women’s bodies serves up a cocktail of misunderstanding and distrust. The bottom line is that racial bias in healthcare is responsible for the inadequate healthcare black women receive.
Conversations have been taking place on social media – I have come across numerous tweets on Twitter with black women talking about their battle to receive the care they needed from healthcare professionals.
This problem is heightened during the most biologically delicate time in a woman’s life: pregnancy. In America, black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy, with a report stating that middle-class black women were more at risk than working-class white women. But it’s not just an American problem; black women in the UK have a 1 in 2,500 chance of dying of pregnancy-related complications, with the rate for white women being 5 times less.
Early last year, tennis star Serena Williams shared her story on how she was treated shortly after giving birth to her daughter. In an interview with Vogue, she mentions developing blood clots in her lungs and requesting a CT scan and a drip. The nurse dismissed her but Serena was persistent enough that she requested a CT scan and she turned out to be right. What I find scary is that if Serena Williams, a household name and multimillionaire, has to fight to receive adequate healthcare, what hope does the average black woman have?
What can be done to improve this situation?
As black women, we need to know our bodies well – that includes learning about our bodies such as any diagnosed conditions, paying attention to the telltale signs and being an advocate for ourselves when we seek medical care. But the onus isn’t solely on us – medical professionals need to listen to us when we express our pain, put their biases to the side and give us the quality healthcare we deserve.
Our lives literally depend on it.